I’ve been listening to a Shure 3C in-ear headset for seven years; wow! It’s been just fine; but on a recent flight a clumsy seatmate bent the jack, so I needed something new. Audéo is made by Phonak, a Swiss outfit who’ve historically been about hearing aids not music. Apparently the disciplines are closely related, because the Audéo PFE 122 offers, by a wide margin, the best headphone sound I’ve ever heard.
I did some poking around the Web’s audiophile landscape and, while the latest from Shure and Etymōtics and Sennheiser all got good reviews, I kept running across eye-rolling over these sanely-priced Phonak offerings, about comfort and isolation and accuracy. On top of which they have a microphone and you can use them for your phone calls. On top of which they have a nice decent web site.
And on top of that, they do old-fashioned customer service. I realized I was taking off for Brazil in two business days; this means the best part of 20 hours on airplanes, and good phones are a major quality-of-life influence. The default economy shipping wasn’t going to do the job. So I called up Phonak; an actual human answered, who referred me intelligently to an Audéo specialist, who referred me intelligently to an orders-and-shipping person, who said “We don’t usually do express, but let me see, can I call you back?” She did in a just few minutes, saying “We can; it’ll cost you extra, but not too much”. So I’m sitting on the plane to Brazil typing this while I listen to some really fine-sounding tunes.
A warning: you’ll need several minutes in a relaxed well-lit setting to get the Phonaks set up. They come with a selection of passive audio filters; replacing these requires a special tool (included), a steady hand, and a calm state of mind. I prefer the “black” filters to the “grey” models that come pre-installed, but that’s just because they have better bass and I’m a headbanger; your taste may well differ.
Anyhow, they’re a dramatic step-up from the old Shures: More comfortable, much better bass, less airplane noise, and smoother when you crank ’em up a bit. That isolation in particular is a big deal; with the 122’s, I’d have to not just stop the music but peel them out of my ear if for some reason I wanted to listen to the same safety-and-services announcement for the 833rd time.
Plus they come in a nice practical little carrying case and look elegant, in a subdued way.